Guilty Pleasures – The Punisher

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After seeing Thomas Jane kicking ass as the infamous vigilante this week, thanks to Comic Con, we just had to revisit his debut film as the character. It was a period in time where comic book films were being churned out with even more frequency than necessary, but not every one of those films was a winner.

The Punisher is one such example, a movie, while tepid upon release, was actually pretty decent overall, despite the fact that most of the people involved with it did everything that they could to hamstring the project.A reboot of the 1989 film starring Dolph “I DYED MY HAIR BLACK! THE PROCESS!” Lundgren, the 2004 version of The Punisher, while changing several events of the origin, was pretty much the character nailed down perfectly.

This wasn’t a hero in spandex, this was a man, a man with a very specific set of skills, angry, hurt and thirsting for revenge. And I loved it. John Travolta chowed the scenery in this movie as if he was in an eating contest, the influences from various comic book runs was perfect, and the gauntlet of villains that actor Thomas Jane had to go through, was immense, all for one last stab at vengeance that could only be described as Shakespearian.

But what’s really sad however, is just how dogged the studio executives were, in an attempt to kill this film. Director Jonathan Hensleigh was never given the budget that he needed to fully realise his vision for the film, meaning that scenes had to be rewritten, edited or just plain cut.

One such scene was to see Frank and his Delta Force army group in heavy combat in a Gulf War battle, showcasing his dangerous skills. Other obstacles that were thrown into the way of Hensleigh, was that he was only given 52 days to shoot the film, basically half the time that other movies got.

It’s clues like this, that make a person wonder what kind of Punisher film we would have received, had Hensleigh and Jane had their way. The two most certainly knew their way around the character, with Hensleigh still telling IGN back in 2004 that:

I had to ask myself intellectual questions like, “To what extent do crimes against a person become so unconscionable, so heinous, that even a person who does not believe in vigilantism can resort to vigilantism in a more just way?”

That was the equation for me. I told Marvel that I didn’t just want to do a revenge story, that I wanted to do the mother of all revenge stories. I wanted to ramp everything up.

I can’t really go further without doing spoilers here. The underlying events that give rise to Frank Castle’s vigilantism are not from the comic. I invented a lot of that. I made it a lot worse.

But as a straight up action flick? This movie is brilliant, and raw with violence. Castle taking on a whole gang of mobsters, failing and surviving, killing various assassins including the reincarnation of Johnny Cash, and of course, that magnificent battle with The Russian, played by the towering Kevin Nash.

But everything else, was done brilliantly. The combat, the weapons, the tactics, it all felt real and gritty. Throw in a great supporting cast who were there just long enough, and you have a film, while not perfect, made do with it had available to present something truly memorable and unique, in an ocean of morality and paragon.

 

Last Updated: July 18, 2012

Darryn Bonthuys

Word-slinger at Critical Hit. Inventor of the macho Swiss gym chocolate known as Testoblerone. That's...that's about it really.

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